Politics & Government

California Legislature ends regular session without a bang

SACRAMENTO -- California's legislative year came to an anticlimactic close early Wednesday, two days ahead of schedule and with major issues still left on the table.

Friday was the official end date, but legislative leaders adjourned early in deference to Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days.

The 52-day budget impasse sucked most of the energy out of the Capitol, thwarting efforts to take up big issues like reducing the number of uninsured residents and boosting the state's dwindling water supply.

Gov. Schwarzenegger called for special sessions to address those issues, so lawmakers will be back as soon as next week.

This year's regular session ended with a sense of unfulfilled promise. As state Sen. Dean Florez said, it went out with a "whimper."

"It's kind of like fourth and 17 right before halftime and rather than go for the score we opted for the field goal. So the fans are disappointed," said Florez, D-Shafter.

But with the special sessions looming, it really still is halftime.

If deals can be struck on water and health care, the legislative reviews will surely brighten -- especially in the Valley if money is reserved for a Fresno-area dam.

"Nothing happened this year," said Dan Schnur, a GOP political strategist. But now lawmakers have extra time to "try to pull something off."

This year's regular session was quite a contrast from last year, when the governor and Democrats -- driven by election-year deal-making -- struck compromises on cutting global warming, increasing the minimum wage and lowering prescription drug prices for the uninsured.

Though none of this year's legislation would enact major policy changes, there was plenty of activity.

Lawmakers sent nearly 1,000 bills to the governor's desk. Many were considered in the final hurried days of session. Lobbyists crowded the hallways, and amendments were approved with little debate.

Because it's the midway point of the two-year legislative cycle, most bills that stalled this year can easily be revived next year.

For the Valley, there were some notable victories -- and defeats.

Environmentalists succeeded in a multiyear effort to add medical experts to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, despite heavy opposition from farm groups. But going down to defeat was another bill -- by Florez -- that would have authorized the Valley air district to raise vehicle registration fees to pay for anti-pollution programs.

Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, lost in his bid to give new powers to county schools superintendents in Fresno and Tulare counties. The legislation was a top priority for Arambula, who saw the measure as a way to fix failing school districts by asserting more local oversight. In the end, he couldn't overcome union opposition.

Another bill that didn't make it out would have put a 2.5-mile dairy-free zone around Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Assembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, decided to hold the bill until next year. She cited this week's deal to keep a Tulare County farmer from building a dairy nearby.

"There's no doubt that my legislation was the hammer that sealed the deal," Carter said.

The state Department of Parks and Recreation will pay $3.5 million to Sam Etchegaray to ensure that he won't proceed with two planned dairies.